Monday, January 12, 2009

Job (the guy, איוב‎, not ‘employment’)

Bob made this statement to me this morning: “I’m reading Job now in my Old Testament readings and I wonder how the Pharisees could blame that dude’s blindness on his supposed sin after reading Job.”

His implication, of course, is that, clearly, the Pharisees’ own Scripture teaches them that it’s possible for a person to endure suffering without having sinned, and so the (apparently common) belief in Jesus’s day that the sick were being punished for a past sin (cf. John 9) reflected poor scholarship on the part of the religious leaders.

Naturally, a visit to Wikipedia was in order.

The Book of Job article has this interesting paragraph:

One Talmudic opinion has it that Job was in fact one of three advisors that Pharaoh consulted, prior to taking action against the increasingly multiplying “Children of Israel” mentioned in the Book of Exodus during the time of Moses’ birth. The episode is mentioned in the Talmud (Tractate Sotah): Balaam gives evil advice urging Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew male new-born babies, Jethro opposes Pharaoh and tells him not to harm the Hebrews at all, and Job keeps silent and does not reveal his mind even though he was personally opposed to Pharaoh’s destructive plans. It is for his silence that God subsequently punishes him with his bitter afflictions.[3].

The Sotah tractate of the Babylonian Talmud can be found here (and this is the page which mentions Job, Jethro, and Balaam as Pharaoh’s 3 advisers). The Talmud didn’t get written until several hundred years after Jesus (Rabbi Hiyya lived in the 3rd century), but it seems likely (to me) that some of the ideas contained therein were already present in the Jewish thought of Jesus’s day.

Hurray for the Talmud; when the Scripture presents you with an idea that challenges your beliefs, all you have to do is invent further backstory to explain it away. Biblical retconning at its finest. How to reconcile Job’s innocence with the idea that the guiltless are not afflicted? Ignore the text and claim that Job must have done something bad after all—despite the fact that the LORD himself said “he is blameless and upright”.

I’m not really sure how widely this belief about Job is held (the Talmud is more up for debate than the Tanakh, and that’s only one of many competing Talmudic references to him), and I’m fairly certain that the Holocaust drastically changed the way Jews view suffering, but it might explain why the Pharisees and even the disciples seemed to think that blindness, lameness, &c. must be deserved punishment.

If either of the two people who might possibly read this happens to be Jewish (somehow, without me knowing about it), I’d love to know how (if?) Job is taught in Synagogue.